By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — To say that optimism abounded in Boston heading into Game 5 would be inaccurate. Most basketball observers in the city were realistic enough to understand the superiority of the Cavaliers over the Celtics in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
But still, even if expectations remained low, there was still a chance the Celtics could win a second game in this series and keep the season a live. There was still some hope that the C’s could at least display a respectable level of fight, like they did in a losing effort in Game 4.
The fans filled the TD Garden on Thursday night ready to cheer. And they were never given the chance.
The Cavaliers waltzed into Boston and used the Celtics’ starting five to wax the parquet. Brad Stevens tried to adjust his lineup; it didn’t work. The Cavs kept scoring. The Celtics kept missing — and turning the ball over. Cleveland built a 12-3 lead, and then a 28-13 lead, and then a 43-23 lead.
It was so bad for the Celtics that the Cavaliers set a franchise record for the most points ever scored in any quarter of a playoff game. And they set the new record with a full minute to spare.
It was a beatdown. And it was a series ender.
“As a coach, you always believe you can win the next game because you believe you can win the next possession,” Brad Stevens said. “I thought we played a little too haphazard tonight. I didn’t think it was a lack of effort at the beginning, but our offensive mistakes led to bad defense and just kind of snowballed on us.”
Unlike Game 4, when Kyrie Irving nearly single-handedly lifted the Cavs to victory, Cleveland’s production was much more evenly distributed. LeBron James was huge early, as was Kevin Love. Irving had the same spring in his step. Kyle Korver hit some shots.
The Celtics made a brief push to try to close the gap, but each surge was matched by Cleveland.
And just like that, the season was over.
And aside from supporting Gerald Green in a second-quarter argument with a referee, the sold-out home crowd was effectively silenced by the suppressing onslaught on both ends of the floor from the Cavaliers.
The Celtics did go on a 6-0 run late in the second quarter, accentuated by a pair of Avery Bradley dunks. But it was followed with an Al Horford goaltend in the final second of the half, giving Cleveland a 75-57 halftime lead.
At halftime, Cleveland was shooting a tick under 60 percent, including an even 40 percent from downtown. The Celtics, meanwhile, had nearly as many turnovers (9) as they did assists (10).
That deficit came despite a fairly even second quarter, one in which the Celtics were only outscored by two points. But in the third, the Cavaliers once again asserted themselves by doubling up the Celtics to the tune of a 34-17 whooping.
And with the 135-102 victory, LeBron and the Cavs advanced to the Finals to face the Warriors for the third straight year.
For LeBron, it’s his seventh consecutive trip to the Finals, as he passed Michael Jordan on the list of all-time playoff scoring with his 35-point output in Game 5.
The season, of course, will rightfully be considered a rousing success for the Celtics. They won 53 games — a five-win improvement over last season, which itself was an eight-win improvement the year prior. Going from 25-57 to 53-29 with a trip to the conference finals in a span of just three years is not a small feat in the NBA. The team is in good hands with Brad Stevens.
And the Celtics — for the first time in their history — won the draft lottery, the end result of a brilliantly forward-thinking trade executed years ago by Danny Ainge.
Lacking a LeBron or Steph Curry-level superstar, the 2016-17 Boston Celtics realistically accomplished everything they were capable of accomplishing. The future is also rather bright. Neither of those statements can be disputed.
But none of that changes the fact that given one last chance to inspire the home crowd in a season-saving effort, the Celtics ended the season on a decidedly sour note.